Friday, 1 August 2014

Saturday 1 August 1964

This week we come to the end of our time on the Sense-Sphere (oh no, don't cheer), with a good few dangling ends to be tied up.  First to be resolved is the question of who attacked Carol at the end of last week's episode...

Well, nobody who's been paying the least bit of attention will be surprised to find that Carol's abductors are the former City Administrator - now lording it over everyone in his new role as Second Elder - and his hapless engineer henchman.  In the hope of getting rid of their unwelcome visitors, they force her to write John a letter saying she's gone to the ship (the idea being that everyone else will follow her).  This is a quite astonishingly incompetent pair of villains - but then, if the First Elder's to be believed, the Sensorites haven't had a great deal of practice in being evil.

The letter produced under duress by Carol is succinct, to say the least.

And it's read by Barbara, who's popped down from the ship just in time for the end of the story.  I can't help feeling that if she'd arrived a couple of weeks ago the story would've ended much sooner, such is her take-no-prisoners attitude to getting everything cleared up.  For a start, she's having none of this Carol's-on-the-Ship nonsense: "I should think it's fairly obvious, shouldn't you?" she snorts in the face of John's blank incomprehension of what's going on.  "I've been away on the ship, so maybe I can see things more clearly."  She's not impressed with the First Elder's characteristic (and by now rather tiresome) insistence that no Sensorite would do such a thing as kidnap someone.

Barbara sends John off to find his lady love, which he does, just in time to hear the engineer practice his very best baddie speech: "All human creatures have a purpose.  They live while the purpose is delivered.  As soon as their purpose is over, their life has no value left."  Noticing John's arrival, he turns violent: "I've only to touch her with this, and she will die!"

Sadly all his villainous posturing comes to nowt, since the Sensorites are very easily incapacitated just by raising your voice slightly.

With Carol rescued (and the Second Elder once again wriggling out of any blame), Barbara turns her attention to the Doctor and Ian, stranded in the Sensorites' aqueduct with a broken weapon and a duff map.  And she's simply not having the First Elder's claim that nothing can be done.

In the tunnels, the Doctor and Ian are reduced to rolling up the map to use as a substitute weapon.  Ian gets the chance to use it against a hairy man lurking in a corner, but sadly the mysterious lurker gets away.

However, he leaves behind him a charming little badge.  With the cleared up image that the BBC's restoration team has given us, it's easy for viewers of A Desperate Measure on DVD to see that what's on the badge is the faded word "Engineer" (well, I say that.  William Hartnell had the thing right in his hand and still managed to read it as "I-N-N-E-R").  Amusingly, the authors of popular 90s Doctor Who reference book The Discontinuity Guide, after viewing a less pristine version of the episode, gave the world the benefit of their speculations on the nefarious INEER corporation and its role in the Doctor Who universe.

But I digress.  As the Doctor and Ian attempt to catch up with the hairy man, Barbara decides to go after her menfolk, guided through the tunnels by Susan, who'll be using her newly blossomed mental powers to direct her through one of the Sensorites' amazing brain stethoscopes.

As Barbara departs with John, it becomes clear she's picked up yet another admirer: "A very capable human being," sighs the First Elder.  "Gentle, yet with strong determination and courage."  Asked about Earth, Susan explains it's not her home, and drifts off into a reverie about her own planet: "It's quite like Earth.  But at night the sky is a burnt orange and the leaves on the trees are bright silver."  A tender and lovely moment nestling in a spectacular morass of silliness.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Ian are at the mercy of a pair of men with pointed sticks (Martyn Huntley and Giles Phibbs).  These, the Doctor realises, are the people who've been poisoning the Sensorites.  They take the travellers, at stickpoint, to see their commander.

In the hope that they'll escape their captors, the Doctor leaves marks behind him so he can find his way back.  By a happy coincidence, this helps Barbara and John to follow in his tracks.

The commander, who proves just as ragged and hairy as his men, is played by John Bailey, who regular readers may well recognise from, well, from just about everything.  He and the others are the survivors, long thought dead, of the previous Earth mission to the Sense-Sphere.  Sent mad through a combination of the Sensorites' mental powers and living in a tunnel for years, they're convinced they're at war, hence their campaign against the Sensorites.  The Doctor cleverly informs him that he and the others have come from Earth to announce that the war is over (given the slow-moving nature of the story over the past six weeks, everything's wrapped up very quickly).  The commander's over the moon: now he's got a whole planet full of molybdenum at his disposal he'll be able to buy himself a shiny new spaceship.

But when the raggedy men are led out of the tunnels, the Sensorite warriors are waiting.  Crewmen One and Two are bemusedly taken away, but the rather less passive commander has to be stunned.  I have to confess here that I find One and Two strangely attractive.  Well, I mean, they'd be all right if you'd been living in a tunnel for years, anyway.

So that's all that sorted out.  Oh yes, the Second Elder.  Well, we're reliably informed that he's been found out and banished to the "Outer Wastes", so that should slim him down a bit if nothing else.  It feels a bit odd that we don't see the travellers saying any goodbyes to their astronaut friends (Captain Maitland's been well and truly forgotten about) - instead, we're straight back aboard the TARDIS, where a crestfallen Susan reveals that the Sensorite scientists have told her she won't have spectacular mental powers anywhere other than the Sense-Sphere.  Her grandfather doesn't seem immensely sympathetic: "It's rather a relief, I think.  After all, no one likes an eavesdropper about, do they?" But he suggests that when they finally make it home they see if there's anything they can do to develop her gift.

This story began with the crew of the TARDIS reflecting on how their adventures to date had changed them.  It ends with the Doctor showing that he's still as unfathomable as ever.  Just a few seconds after admitting to Susan that "This old ship of mine seems to be an aimless thing," he takes such great offence at an offhand comment from Ian about not knowing where he's going that he determines to put both the teachers off the ship wherever they next end up...

Over to the other side now for tonight's instalment of The Larkins, which sees Hugh Paddick take centre stage with his wonderful characterisation of Major Osbert Rigby-Soames (retd.).

Osbert's friends are agog with admiration of his unerring ability to avoid doing work of any kind.  Basking in their esteem, he shares some of his most successful tricks - including the time-honoured "walking very fast with a folder tucked under the arm" ruse.

But little does the ex-military malingerer know that one of his grandest schemes is about to exposed, as Ada opens a letter addressed to "the landlady" and sent by Osbert's cousin Rev Rodney Rigby-Soames.

Called to Ada's presence, Osbert is informed that the envelope contained £20, and a letter that has exposed a long-running scam whereby he regularly writes to relatives threatening to come and live with them unless they cover his rent.  The amount sent is always a lot more than that required, enabling Osbert to continue indulging his twin passions of booze and horses (the gargantuan size of the banknotes is perhaps the thing that most boggles my mind when watching 1960s programmes).

Osbert is forced by a wrathful Ada to return the money to his cousin and - indignity of indignities! - to find a job if he wishes to continue living under her roof.

The alternative being altogether unconscionable - "Death before dishonour!", Osbert prepares to pack his bags and leave, but finds himself unable to leave Ada's steak and kidney pudding behind, nearly biting Alf's hand off at the very thought of it.  It looks like he's going to have to work after all.  Alf's overjoyed: this development means he will officially be the laziest resident at Chez Larkins.

After spending a day unsuccessfully trudging through the streets in search of work, Osbert announces he's decided to go into business for himself.  Doing what? Well, erm, minding things for people.

Despite his cryptic and only semi-legible ads, work seems to be pouring in for Osbert.  He's got a whole load of clocks to look after, and unfortunately these have to be crowded into the Larkins' living room as he's got stacks of books in his room which he's cataloguing for someone.

The constant ticking and chiming of the clocks, along with the clacking all day and night of Osbert's typewriter, rob Alf and Ada of their sleep.

Osbert insists that he feels he has a whole new purpose in life now he's working but - believe it or not - it's all a ruse.  The typewriter going through the night is just a tape recording, and Osbert is in fact sleeping the sleep of the (not quite) just.

Alf and Ada's problems continue to grow as Osbert brings home an assortment of animals that he's been employed to look after, following them up with a contingent of Chinese tourists.

It's more than poor Ada can bear (look at the below image: who can honestly say that they can't relate to it on some level?).

The Chinese tourists provide an opportunity for dodgy jokes and more of Barbara Mitchell's curious straight-to-camera delivery of her lines: "Four for birds' nest soup, three for chop suey, two for flied lice..." Ada finally crumbles under the strain.

When Osbert announces there's 37 sacks of fertiliser on the way, Ada begs him to give up his job.  He doesn't need asking twice.  Later, in especially jolly mood he reveals to Alf that he borrowed the clocks, books and animals, and the tourists were in fact the Peking football team, who he abducted on their way to the Chinese embassy.  Alf sadly concedes that he'll never be quite as heroic a shirker as his lodger.

Minders Keepers features the usual top-notch performances from the show's main cast, but its decidedly tenuous plot seems to be yet more evidence that Larkins writer Fred Robinson's fast running out of inspiration.

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